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Monday, January 10, 2005


military television

last weekend, i took to the couch with a book and a remote to relax as i am wont to. i'm constantly appalled by the state of television, even in the age of a thousand channels. and yet there remain at least one or two programs on the air most of the time with which one can kill time without wanting to kill oneself. plebiscitarian television has made me into a documentary junkie.

of course, 80% of documentaries are horrid as well -- purporting to instruct the viewer on the power of crystals or the construction of the pyramids by aliens of somesuch. these i have difficulty separating from q-ray and cortisol infomericals, with which they share the fifth circle of information hell.

however, i'd be hard pressed not to notice, even among more scholarly viewing, the marked decline into militarism that is overtaking documentary television. on the saturday in question, i sprawled out to end up viewing a review of the life of hannibal. this was followed by three hours on alexander, and that followed by hours more of yet other conquerors past. it seems that elevating conquest and carnage to heroism is what sells adverts.

and now comes news that two of the channels i would often resort to in order to while away a lazy day are being reprogrammed as devastation-celebration programming.

Considering millions of Americans have military experience and the country is at war, it seems like such an obvious idea for a network that it's a wonder a version of these networks didn't exist before.

... "There is a group out there that wants to be able to see military history documentaries any time of day, 24 hours a day," he said.

The Military History Channel has come out guns blazing. For its first three nights, the channel telecast four-hour, prime-time documentaries recounting the battle histories of the U.S. Army, Navy and Air Force. The Marines got three hours, the Coast Guard two.
there is in this, i think, something to dread. when the praise of the engines of slaughter becomes a mode of constant public contemplation, something profound has changed in the outlook of the nation. the united states, which was once saw fit to isolate itself from any "foreign alliances, attachments, and intrigues" -- to the extent of allowing the nazis march over france and most of russia without armed action -- is now in a state bordering on ecstasy in celebration of disasters unknown to virtually all and yet vividly remembered as "our finest hour" -- churchill's desperate propaganda now believed as if god's own truth.

to the student of history, it is all quite reminiscient of german idealist school of nationalism -- in which the Volk of herder and novalis were developed through fichte, hegel, fries and schleiermacher into the irrational ultranationalist elevation of all things german and the condemnation and exclusion of all things foreign. the widespread belief in a natural german superiority based in primitive romantic pastoralism morphed into the heroification of the prussian state and, in combination with darwinism, the love of war as the means of purifying the Volk through the noble struggle for life -- a noxious mix to which blame for the advent of the world wars can in large part be pinned.

the parallels often seem plain to me -- the fascination with romantic heroic war, the idealization of the primitive as virtuous and set against the complex and decadent civilization of the west -- but also the broader mystical hegelian idea of america as a thing greater and more noble than all others, a force of historic reckoning and reconciliation, a vehicle to utopia. of course, it finds justification where it can -- as hegel's germanic realm was supposedly the triumph of Reason, as would america's be of Democracy.

where such idealism remains the basis of action, fascism is not dead. to the extent that the glorification of war has permeated the masses in a fashion that makes military television a profitable reality, we all have much to be concerned about in america's political future.

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